Emily is starting over. To say she has had a rough time is an understatement. She is a survivor of a school shooting. Her boyfriend, Paul, killed himself in front of her in the school library. The story begins as Emily is starting a new school, a boarding school to be exact. Her family felt she should get away and move forward toward her goal of attending Harvard. The story is told in Emily’s voice as she is now and in flashbacks to what happened and what lead up to the shooting. Her school in Amherst, MA was also once home to poet, Emily Dickinson. Emily is also a poet. The poems come to her and spell out her inner most pain. I love the relationships Emily has with two of her teachers, the English teacher back home and the French teacher at the boarding school. It is also interesting how Emily finds new friends who have their own pain they are trying to hide. Emily is a very relate-able character. She spends much of the story stuck in the in-between space between what happened to Paul and building a future for herself. I think many teens can relate to that “stuck” feeling. The novel is beautifully written by Hubbard. I loved this book and had trouble putting it down. I missed the characters when it was over.
Ideas for discussing with teens:
Discuss, “you don’t advertise where you’re from. You advertise where you’ve been. And even though it sounds like it, believe me, they’re not the same thing.” pg. 49
Discuss when Emily says all males are paradoxes.
Emily talks about how Mrs. Albright’s classroom was the one place where she could be the real her. Do you have a place like that?
Discuss this passage, “A girl who lies alone, in her single bed. Cannot grasp the science of her solitary head.” pg. 64
Discuss the line when Emily describes poems coming into her head, “Lines unspool like ribbons, and she can’t fall asleep until she ties them into bows.”
Discuss the line from the Emily Dickinson poem about the loaded gun. pg. 16
Discuss what is means to “stay true.”
Why do you think Amber steals? Why the dress? Why do you think Emily risks getting kicked out of school to return the dress?
Why happens to Emily while in the Emily Dickinson house?
Discuss this passage, “Being a kid teaches you that you’re the queen of your forest, and then whammo. You have to pack up your toys and start playing games with real people. I’m not sure we’re ready for that yet. I think we should play with our toys for just a little longer.” pg. 127 Then discuss the poem The Safe Way on pg. 137.